By Ted Rachel

Esperanto is a constructed auxiliary language.  Its creator was Ludovic Lazarus Zamenhof, a Polish eye doctor.  He created the language to make international communication easier.  His goal was to design Esperanto in such a way that people can learn it much more easily than any other national language.  

Zamenhof called the language La Internacia Lingvo, which means “the international language” in Esperanto.  Soon people began calling it by the simpler name Esperanto, which means “a hopeful person”.  That name comes from Doktoro Esperanto (Doctor Hopeful), which is what Zamenhof called himself in his first book about Esperanto.  

There are people who speak Esperanto in many countries and in all the major continents.  No one knows exactly how many people now speak Esperanto in the world.  Most sources say that there are between several hundred thousand and two million Esperanto speakers.  A few people grew up speaking the language as their first language.  There may perhaps be around 2,000 of these people. Therefore, Esperanto is the most used constructed language in the world.  A person who speaks or supports Esperanto is often called an “Esperantist”.  

Early Life

Dr. Ludovic Lazarus Zamenhof (1859-1917), an eye doctor was born in the Polish city of Bialystok.  At that time it was home to mixtures of Poles, Russians, Jews, Lithuanians and Germans.  He believed that much of the distrust and misunderstanding between the different ethnic groups was a result of language differences, so he resolved to create an international language which could be used as a neutral lingua franca, easy language, and could help break down the language barriers. 

Zamenhof’s first work on Esperanto, the “unua libro” (first book) published in 1887, contained 920 roots from which tens of thousands of words could be formed, together with the “fundamenta gramatiko” (fundamental grammar), which consisted of 16 basic grammatical rules .  Zamenhof renounced all rights to Esperanto and encouraged comments and suggestions on the development of the language.  The majority of Esperanto’s roots are based on Latin, though some vocabulary is taken from modem romance languages and from English, German, Polish, and Russian.  

Roots can be combined with affixes to form new words, for example:  lerni = to learn, lemejo = a school, lemanto = a pupil/student, lemejestro = a headmaster.  The affixes can also stand alone: ejo = place, estro =  leader/head, etc.  Spelling conventions are somewhat similar to Polish, though Zamenhof came up with some new letter for Esperanto (Gg, Hh, ji).  These letters are often replaced the ch, gh, jh, or cx, jx, or c.  

Zamenhof recognized this problem and favored using ch, gh when the special letters were not available. Today Esperanto is the most widely used international auxiliary language and is particularly popular in Eastern Europe and China. There is a flourishing of Esperanto literature  including books, magazines, and poetry.  Some of the literary works are originally written in Esperanto, while others are translated from other languages. 

There are also Esperanto songs and a number of radio stations broadcast news bulletins in Esperanto. There are approximately 1,000 native speakers of Esperanto, 10,000 people can speak Esperanto fluently; 100,000 can use it actively, 1 million understand  a lot of Esperanto, and about 10 million have studied it to some extent.    

Esperanto for Communication 

Between People

Zamenhof created a language people could share and use internationally.  He thought this language should be different from national languages and wanted it to be culturally neutral and easy to learn.  He thought people should learn it along with national languages and use Esperanto for communication between people with different native languages.  Zamenhof thought about bringing Latin back into use.  He learned it in school, but  realized it was too difficult for normal use.  

He also studied English and understood that languages did not need to conjugate verbs by person or number.  Once he saw two Russian words (reception-receptionist) and  confectionery—confectioner).  

These words with the same ending gave him an idea.  He decided that regular prefixes and suffixes could decrease the prefixes and suffixes could decrease the number of word roots which one would need for a communication. Zamenhof wanted the root words to be neutral, so he decided to use word roots from Romance and Germanic languages.  Those languages were taught in many schools in many places around the world at that time.  

Zamenhof did his first project (universal language) in 1878, but his father, a language teacher, regarded his son’s work an unrealistic and  destroyed  the original work. Between 1879 and 1885 Zamenhof studied medicine in Moscow and Warsaw.  In these days he again worked on a international language.  

In 1887 he published his first textbook, “The International Language”, according o Zamenhof’s pseudonym Doktoro Esperanto, “Doctor Who Hopes”.  Many people started calling the language, Esperanto.  Zamenhof received a lot of enthusiastic letters.  

In the letters people wrote their suggestions for changes to the language.  He noted all of the suggestions and published them in the magazine, La Esperantisto. In the magazine Esperanto speakers could vote about the changes they didn’t accept.  

The magazine had many subscribers in Russia. It was eventually banned, then stopped there, because of an article about Lev Nikolayzvich Tolstoy.  Publishing   the magazine ended after that.  

The first year of Esperanto, people used it only in written form, but in 1905 they organized the First World Congress of Esperanto in Boulogne-Sur–Mer, France.  This  was the first notable use of Esperanto in international communication.  

Because of the success of the Congress, it is organized each year (except the years of the world wars) to this day.  In 1912 Zamenhof resigned his leading position in the movement during the eighth World Congress of Esperanto in Krakow, Poland.  The tenth World Congress of Esperanto in Paris, France didn’t take place because of the start of World War I.  Nearly 4,000 people signed up for this congress.

During the World Wars

During World War I the World Esperanto Association had its main office in Switzerland, which was neutral in the war.   Hector Hodler’s group of volunteers, with support of Romain Rolland helped send letters between the enemy countries through Switzerland. In total they helped with 200,000 cases. After World War I there was new hope for Esperanto, because of the desire of people to live in peace.  Esperanto and its community grew in those days.  

The first World Congress after the war took place in Hague, Netherlands in 1920.  An Esperanto museum was opened in Vienna, Austria in 1929.  Today it is part of the Austrian National Library.  World War II stopped this growing of the language.  Many Esperantists were sent into battle.  Nazis broke up Esperanto groups because they saw the language as a part of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy,   Many Esperanto speakers died in concentration camps.  The Soviet Union also treated Esperantists badly when Stalin was their leader. 

After the Wars

After World War II many people supported  Esperanto.  Eighty million people signed a petition supporting Esperanto for use in the United Nations.  Every year they organize big Esperanto meetings such as the World Congress of Esperanto, International Youth Congress. In 1990 The Holy See of The Roman Catholic Church published the document Norme per la Celebrazione della Messa in Esperanto, allowing the use of Esperanto in masses without special permission. 

Esperanto is the only constructed language which received a permission like this one from the Roman Catholic Church.  Esperanto is the only constructed language that the Roman Catholic Church recognizes as a liturgical language.  They allow masses in the language and Vatican Radio Broadcasts in Esperanto every week.  

Many people use Esperanto to communicate by mail, email, blogs or chat rooms with Esperantists in other countries.  Some travel to other countries to meet and talk in Esperanto with other Esperantists.  Esperanto has many web pages, blogs, podcasts, and videos.  People also use Esperanto in social media and online discussions and in their private communication through e-mail and instant messaging. Several, especially open source and free software programs, have their own language version in Esperanto.  Internet radio station Muzaiko has been broadcasting 24 hours a day in Esperanto since 2011.  

There are books and magazines written in Esperanto. Much literature has been translated into Esperanto from other languages, including famous works, like the Bible, first time in 1926, and plays by Shakespeare.  Works that are less famous have also been translated into Esperanto, and some of these do not have English translations.  

Some Esperanto speakers like  Esperanto for reasons other than its use as a universal second language.  They like the Esperanto community and culture.  Developing the Esperanto     culture is a goal for those people. Zamenhof wanted to create an easy language, to create a language ready to use whether the language be universally accepted or not and to find some means to get many people to learn the language.  So Zamenhof’s intention was not only to create an easy–to–learn language to foster peace and international understanding as a general language, but also to create a language for immediate use by a small language community.  

Esperanto was to serve as an international auxiliary language,  that as a universal second language was not to replace ethnic languages.  This goal was widely shared among Esperanto speakers in the early decades of the movement.  Later Esperanto speakers began to see the language and the culture that had grown up around it as ends in themselves, even if Esperanto is never adopted by the United Nations or other International organizations.

References: (1) Esperanto—Simple English Wikipedia—The Free Encyclopedia; (2) Esperanto—Wikipedia; (3) Esperanto—Language, Alphabet, and Pronunciation. 

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